Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

The Italian version of mac and cheese, with gooey long strands of fresh stracciatella cheese enveloped in a sweet tomato sauce and tossed with macheroncetti. Macheroncetti is like a short rigatoni pasta. You can also use your favorite tube pasta such as rigatoni or mostaccicoli. Stracciatella is probably best known as the creamy soft center of burrata with the shredded strands of what later becomes mozzarella. The word in Italian translates to “rag” and comes from the verb “strattore” which means “to stretch”. If you have ever seen fresh mozzarella, it’s stretched and pulled and completely mesmorizing! If you can’t find stracciatella at a local Italian market or high-end store, you can use fresh mozzarella. 

No need to bake this dish. It’s fast and easy – about 45 minutes to make the sauce from scratch and toss it together. When those long gooey strands of cheese melt in the warm sweet sauce, you will feel like a kid again! Ultimate comfort food!

Classic Tomato Basil Sauce:

1/3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, diced

8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 carrot, shredded

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

3 28-oz.cans tomato puree

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

12-16 fresh basil leaves

 

16 oz. stracciatella cheese (or fresh mozzarella)

1 pound macheroncetti (or rigatoni)

Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Red pepper flakes

Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

Place a large stock pot of water on high heat to boil the pasta.

Place olive oil into a large shallow skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onion and gently saute for 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute 3 minutes more. Add carrot and thyme and saute another 5 minutes. 

Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

Add pureed tomatoes and cook on medium for 30 minutes, stirring periodically. When ready to serve, season with salt and pepper to taste.  

Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

Add the stracciatella to the sauce and stir gently to combine.  (If using fresh mozzarella, break the mozzarella into long thin strands with your hands, then add to the sauce and stir to combine to completely melt the cheese into the sauce.)  

Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

Add the basil leaves to gently wilt in the hot sauce.

Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

When the stock pot is boiling, add a little salt and olive oil to the pasta water. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions. When al dente, drain (do not rinse). Add the drained pasta to the sauce and stir to coat the pasta with the sauce. 

Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

Garnish with a sprig of basil, a little Parmesan cheese and for those who like a little kick, a touch of red pepper flakes.

Macheroncetti with Tomato, Basil & Stracciatella (Italian Mac & Cheese!)

After staying clean in my white outfit for the entire recipe, I dribbled those long strands of cheese on my shirt when I ate it! Hahah Worth every bite. You can watch the video of when I made this for my family on Suzanne Somers’ Facebook page in the video section. Here’s the link. https://www.facebook.com/suzannesomers/videos/359152331367188/

Suzanne Somers Caroline Somers

Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups with Sticky Drippy Asian BBQ Sauce

Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups

WARNING: Incredibly delicious Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups will drip down your forearms and the sticky messy sauce combined with the juices will spill off your plate and ruin your best placemats… AND YOU WON’T CARE because they taste so good! Modeled after restaurant favorites from Mr. Chow or PF Chang’s, these are easy to make for a crowd-pleasing appetizer or a casual meal. Bruce says they are the best I’ve ever made, and he’s a big fan of my food. WINNER.

Sticky Drippy Asian BBQ Sauce:

½ cup sweet chili sauce

½ cup hoisin 

½ cup tamari

¼ cup sriracha 

1 tablespoon dry mustard

¼ cup sesame oil 

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

¼ cup minced garlic, about 10 cloves 

¼ cup finely chopped ginger, about 3 inches peeled and chopped

 

 Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups:

2 pounds ground chicken (preferably dark meat)

Sesame oil, for sautéing 

4 cups oyster mushrooms (or your favorite type), finely chopped

10 sweet baby bells (or 1 large red or orange bell pepper), thinly sliced

2 jalapenos, seeded and thinly sliced (optional, but nice for a little kick)

1 bunch green onions, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal 

2 cans water chestnuts, drained and chopped 

1 head butter lettuce, whole leaves

1 head Romaine lettuce, whole leaves

Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups Ingredients

For Sticky Drippy Asian BBQ Sauce:

Place all sauce ingredients into a glass bowl and stir to combine. 

For Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups:

Pout ½ cup Sticky Drippy Asian BBQ Sauce into ground chicken and mix until well combined. 

Place a wok or large saute pan on medium high heat. When nice and hot, add a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil. Add the chicken and saute for about 7 minutes until cooked through and crumbled.  Set aside in a large bowl and keep warm by placing a plate on top.  

Add a little more sesame oil to the pan, then saute the baby bells, jalapenos, and green onions until brightly colored, about 4 minutes. Set aside on top of the ground chicken.  Add a little more sesame oil to the pan, then the mushrooms, and saute until they are nicely browned and crispy on the edges, about 10 minutes.  Add to the chicken mixture.  

Lastly, add a touch more oil to the pan, then the water chestnuts and saute until heated through, about 2 minutes. Toss into the chicken mixture and stir to combine all the ingredients.  

Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups

Arrange the Romaine and butter lettuce leaves on a large platter. Place 3 leaves on each plate, then spoon the minced chicken into the lettuce leaves and add a generous spoonful of the sauce over the top. Fold up and eat with your hands.  Give into the sticky, drippy mess and enjoy every bite!

Edible Arrangements - Discovering Fava Bean Leaves

Fava Bean Leaves

My favorite Sundays involve a walk to our local Farmer’s Market, a hot yoga session with Chelsea who always lifts my mood and vibration, then a wonderful meal prepared with our treasures from the market. I challenge myself to find something new each week. This week we found these beautiful flowering Fava Bean Leaves! They made for a lovely arrangement. The next morning when I came downstairs they had sprung up after being revived in water! Gorgeous… that is until we ate them.  Talk about Edible Arrangements (thank you, Samuel Harwit for the caption). They are nice plump greens with a hint of citrus. You can eat the flowers too, but same some for the garnish. 

Fava Bean Leaves

There is also a seafood stand at the market and this week she had beautiful wild caught dry sea scallops.  “Dry” in this case just means that the scallops have not been injected with water to make them look more plump. This is a trick grocers will use to charge more – however, the water cooks out and the scallops will shrink when cooked.  “Dry” sea scallops have not been injected so they keep their size, and these beauties were about 2 inches high. When I watch cooking shows, the way you cook scallops is always one of the tests to see if you know what you are doing. They are so easy to overcook and then they get rubbery. I love a good sear on the edges, but the center should still have a hint of pink. If not, Gordon Ramsey will yell at you and send you home! Fortunately, I was already home when I made them, but they would have passed his test.

Sea Scallops Turmeric Cauliflower Rice

Lemony Sea Scallops on Turmeric Cauliflower Rice & Sauteed Fava Bean Leaves 

These scallops are seasoned with sea salt and turmeric, then sautéed in sesame oil and finished with a hit of fresh lemon. Simple. I served them over a new creation of Turmeric Cauliflower Rice with Fava Bean Leaves. Really good! You can watch the video on my Facebook account @EmptyNestersFly or Instagram’s IGTV @carolinesomers. 

Lemony Sea Scallops:

1.5 lbs dry sea scallops, about 2” thick  

Sea salt

2 teaspoons turmeric

¼ cup toasted sesame oil 

Juice of 1 lemon

 

Turmeric Cauliflower Rice & Sauteed Fava Bean Leaves:

2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 hot green chili, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon turmeric

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons coriander

½ teaspoon cayenne 

2 teaspoons sea salt

1/3 cup coconut oil

1 head cauliflower, finely chopped

4 cups fava bean leaves and flowers, roughly chopped (or any leafy green – spinach, kale, chard) 

Turmeric Cauliflower Rice Fava Bean Leaves

For the Cauliflower:

Place a large saute pan or wok on medium high heat. Add the coconut oi and melt. Add the ginger, garlic, and chili and saute for 2 minutes. Add the spices and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes until the seasonings release their aroma.  Add the cauliflower and saute until tender, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the chopped greens and saute another 2-3 minutes until wilted.  Set aside on warm. 

Sea Scallops Turmeric Cauliflower Rice

For the Sea Scallops: 

Season the sea scallops with sea salt and turmeric on all sides. Place a large saute pan on medium high heat until nice and hot. Add the sesame oil. Add the scallops in one even layer. Let them get a nice sear on the bottom side, about 3 minutes. Loosen scallops from the pan with a spatula, and then carefully flip. Cook the other side for 2 minutes. Squeeze lemon over the top.

Place the cauliflower and greens onto serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with 3 scallops and garnish with a fava bean flower or other available fresh herb. 

Sea Scallops Turmeric Cauliflower Rice Fava Bean Leaves

Maple Glazed Salmon with Fried Tarragon & Double Crispy Herbed French Fries with Lemon Aioli

Maple Glazed Salmon French Fries

This crowd-pleasing salmon recipe has a hint of sweetness from the maple glaze balanced by crispy salty fried tarragon. I served it with a pile of crispy French fries to continue the elegant “comfort food” theme for Valentine’s Day. I believe in the “double fry” to get fries done on the inside, crispy on the outside, and just the right golden color.  Add a dollop of Lemon Aioli and some roasted asparagus to round out the meal. 

MAPLE GLAZED SALMON with FRIED TARRAGON:

2 cups fresh tarragon, leaves only

Peanut oil

12 salmon filets 

½ cup olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

For Fried Tarragon:

Heat a pot of peanut oil on medium high until it’s about 350 degrees. Flash fry the tarragon leaves for just about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Generously salt with a good quality fleur de sel, and aside until salmon is ready.

Maple Glazed Salmon with Crispy Fried Tarragon

For Maple Glazed Salmon:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the salmon with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a large saute pan (with oven proof handle) on medium high heat. Add the olive oil, then the salmon skin side down. (For a larger party, you will need two saute pans.) Spoon the hot oil over the tops of the salmon. It will take 2-3 minutes to get a nice crust on the bottom of the fish. 

Add a drizzle of maple syrup on top of each piece of fish. Continue spooning the oil and syrup as the maple syrup begins to caramelize.  Transfer the entire saute pan to the oven to finish the cooking - another 3 minutes. Remove hot pan from oven (careful of that hot handle!) and plate each piece of fish, spooning the caramelized pan drippings over each piece. Top with a pile of Crispy Fried Tarragon. 

Maple Glazed Salmon

DOUBLE CRISPY HERBED FRENCH FRIES & LEMON AIOLI 

6 Russet potatoes 

Peanut oil

2 bunches basil, leaves only

2 bunches parsley, leaves only

2 bunches rosemary, leaves only

Sea salt 

Helpful Kitchen Tools:

Mandoline

Large stock pot

Candy thermometer with clip

Large steel skimmer strainer

Baking sheets 

To prepare the potatoes, wash the outside well, removing any eyes. Prepare a large bowl of cold water and set aside. Using a mandoline, slice into long thin fries, about ¼ inch thick (or cut by hand as uniform in size as possible).  As you slice them, place into the cool water. Let the potatoes soak for 30 minutes or longer. When you are ready for the first fry, drain potatoes well on kitchen towels or paper towels. Wet fries will make the oil splatter so dry them well before frying.  

For the first fry, heat at least 3 inches of peanut oil to 325 degrees in a large heavy bottomed pan. Add the fries in small batches and cook for about 5 minutes per batch. They will still be pale at this lower temperature, but it will cook the inside so that later, you can easily crisp them just before serving. Remove with a slotted spoon or large skimmer and set aside on baking sheets lined with paper towels. These will hold all day until you are ready to do the final fry and serve.

To fry the Herbs:

Turn up the heat to 350 and quickly fry the herbs in batches for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and set aside on paper towels.  

Second Fry for Fries:

When ready to serve the fries, reheat the oil to 375 degrees, using your candy thermometer to monitor the heat. Add a single fry to test the oil. It should sizzle and bubble at a steady pace. Add the fries in batches so you can keep the oil nice and hot. Fry to a deep golden brown, about 5 minutes, for the second fry. Set aside on a baking sheet. 

Combine the crispy fries with the crispy herbs. Season with a good quality sea salt, such as fleur de sel. Serve immediately or keep in a warm oven until ready to serve. 

 LEMON AIOLI

4 egg yolks

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Juice of 2 lemons, plus 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Dash of Worchestershire

Dash of Tabasco

1 teaspoon sea salt 

½ teaspoon white pepper

2 cups safflower oil

 Combine egg yolks, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, Worchestershire, Tabasco, salt and white pepper into the base of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the oil, in a slow drizzle until incorporated and emulsified.  This can also be blended by hand in a mixing bowl, using a whisk. Stores in refrigerator for a week or longer.  

Maple Glazed Salmon with Fried Tarragon & Double Crisp Herbed French Fries with Lemon Aioli

Hearts of Romaine with Buttermilk Parmesan Dressing & Pepita Croutons

Hearts of Romaine with Buttermilk Parmesan Dressing

I will never tire of salad with amazing extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or a wonderful aged balsamic, however, I wanted a little something different for my Valentine’s Dinner. The theme of this year’s dinner was a twist on old favorites, or a fresh way to make comfort foods. The salad was inspired by my niece, Shannon, who called my homemade dressing FANCY RANCH. She told me she appreciates that I don’t cut corners in my cooking (meaning the dressing does not come out of a bottle!). You can call it Buttermilk Parmesan or FANCY RANCH, but it’s loaded with fresh herbs and flavor and it’s simple to make. I love these crunchy Pepita Croutons to top it off!

Ingredients for Buttermilk Paresan aka Fancy Ranch

Serves 12

 BUTTERMILK PARMESAN DRESSING aka FANCY RANCH

2 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup mayonnaise

½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Buttermilk Parmesan AKA Fancy Ranch

Add all ingredients to mason jar and shake to combine. Keeps in fridge for a week or longer. 

Pepita Croutons

PEPITA CROUTONS:

1 cup raw pepitas

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch red chili flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For Pepita Croutons:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Spread out on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Break into pieces. Season with additional sea salt. Serve as croutons for salad, a savory crunchy topping on yogurt, or simply as a snack. 

IMG_1761.jpeg

HEARTS OF ROMAINE SALAD:

6 Romaine hearts, quartered

2 Watermelon radishes, thinly sliced

Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded for garnish 

Chives, for garnish  

 To assemble salad:

Place two pieces of Romaine hearts on each plate. Since it was Valentine’s I used my frilliest pink plates and mixed all the floral patterns. Drizzle with lettuce with Buttermilk Parmesan Dressing. Garnish with Pepita Croutons, shredded Parmesan, watermelon radishes, and fresh chives. 

Hearts of Romaine with Buttermilk Parmesan Dressing & Pepita Croutons

The day after our Valentine’s Dinner we made the best salad with the leftovers! I chopped all the vegetables from the crudité platter and added them to the Romaine hearts. A perfect dinner! 

Grilled Cheese & Roasted Tomato Soup

This might be my favorite appetizer I have ever served. Sure, we think of Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup for a rainy-day comfort meal, but how about an elegant presentation at a dinner party with two little fingers of Grilled Cheese to dunk in a shot of Roasted Tomato Soup! I served this as a passed appetizer for my Valentine’s Dinner and my guests LOVED it.  

Grilled Cheese & Roasted Tomato Soup Appetizer

GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES

It’s literally my favorite food… of ALL foods, if I had to pick just one it would be Grilled Cheese aka Toasted Cheese, Cheese Toast, Cheese Toastie, Jaffles, etc. By any name in any country I have never met a grilled cheese I didn’t like. Cafeteria style on white bread with gooey American cheese – how happy was I when the school menu was grilled cheese!!!! All the way up to the crustiest artisanal bread with Fontina, Bleu, Brie…. IF YOU TOAST IT AND MELT CHEESE ON IT, I WILL BE THERE. 

Here is one version of our beloved Grilled Cheese, made with a combination of 5 cheeses selected for meltability and creaminess (Fontina, Baby Swiss, Gouda), sharpness (sharp white cheddar), and a punch of salt (Pecorino). (Or course you can always opt for American cheese singles, but get a good quality organic variety if you go this route.)  I slather the bread with real butter. Some will argue for using mayonnaise instead of butter for better browning. Mayo is a midwestern tradition on grilled cheese, and while I honor the browning note, I prefer the taste of butter. Also, err on the side of well-done – the crusty buttery bread with the melty, gooey cheese. Simply sublime. I also add a tiny sprinkle of good sea salt before slicing, because it just does a final little thing that makes it sing.  

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

INGREDIENTS:

Dave’s Seed Bread (2 slices per sandwich)

Butter (2 tablespoons per sandwich)

5-Cheese Blend (about ½ cup per sandwich)

Fontina

Gouda

Baby Swiss

Sharp white cheddar

Pecorino

Fleur de Sel (or good quality sea salt)

Preheat a griddle to 350 degrees or medium high (or use a heavy-bottomed saute pan on medium-high heat). Grate the five cheeses in equal amounts and combine in a bowl (roughly ½ cup per sandwich).  Slather the outside of two pieces of bread with butter, covering every bit to the corners. Place the buttered side of the bread onto a buttered hot griddle (or a pan on medium-high heat with melted butter). Add a generous amount of grated cheese and spread evenly all the way to the corners. Place the other piece of bread on top. Let the bread get nice and crispy on the bottom side, while the cheese begins to melt. (If your pan is too hot, the bread will burn and the cheese will not have enough time to melt, so check the heat and adjust as needed.) When the bottom bread is a deep golden brown and the edges of the bread are crispy, flip and repeat the other side.  Transfer to a cutting board. Give the top a tiny sprinkle of sea salt. Slice on the diagonal into 1 inch strips.  Criss-cross the slices and serve immediately. Great with a cup of Roasted Tomato Soup!

Grilled Cheese & Roasted Tomato Soup Appetizer

ROASTED TOMATO SOUP

This is my mother-in-law Suzanne Somers’ recipe and there is no need to alter it one bit. Suzanne has taught me so many things in my life. What a mentor she has been for me… however, of all the enrichment she was shared with me, perhaps the most notable is SOUP. Suzanne makes the best soup of anyone I know! The key is her homemade broth, her ability to season with just the right amount of salt, and the garnishes she adds that give it that extra special something. This is her Roasted Tomato Soup that can be found in her recipe compilation, Sexy Forever Recipe Bible, on page 51. The only alteration I made is that I used cherry tomatoes and then served it in a little espresso cup with Grilled Cheese! 

Roasted Tomato Soup

INGREDIENTS:

8 pints of the ripest reddest organic cherry tomatoes 

Drizzle of olive oil

2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 bunch basil, leaves only

2 cups chicken broth

Sea salt & cracked black pepper

Pinch red chili flakes

Crème fraiche, for garnish  

Caramelized shallots, for garnish

Place cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil and thyme over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, until tomatoes are blistered and browning. Scrape all tomatoes and stuff stuck on bottom of the pan into a soup pot.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Add basil leaves (save a few for garnish) and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add broth, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Season with sea salt, cracked pepper and a pinch of red chili flakes. Taste soup and if it’s too acidic, add a small spoonful of organic sugar to balance. Check salt again and add as needed until the balance is correct. 

Roasted Tomato Soup

Puree with a hand mixer until smooth and serve.  Garnish with crème fraiche, caramelized shallots, and sprig of basil. 

Grilled Cheese & Roasted Tomato Soup

For the appetizer version, serve in a small demitasse or espresso cup with a slice of Grilled Cheese - perfect as a passed appetizer for an elegant way to dunk!

Grilled Cheese & Roasted Tomato Soup

This was my passed appetizer at my Valentine’s dinner with a few of the loveliest friends a girl could ever wish for!!! Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Empty Nesters - Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles

Empty Nesters Play

The Empty Nesters

By Garret Jon Groenveld

Starring John (JW) Walker & Pamela Walker

Directed by Richard Seyd

Frances has just dropped off her baby girl at college and looks past her husband with a vacancy in her eyes that shows only a fraction of the void she feels in her broken heart. Greg looks on the bright side, assuming there will be more sex with his wife now that the kids are out of the house. While this couple has had 18 years to prepare for this day, becoming “empty nesters” can feel like falling into a deep abyss of nostalgia, anxiety, and uncertainty. 

Sound familiar?? Last weekend we attended opening weekend of the Los Angeles run of “The Empty Nesters” at the Zephyr Theatre. To say it touched a nerve is an understatement! Nearly every one of my friends is facing the empty nester syndrome at this phase of life; some with a newfound sense of freedom and reinvention, and others with deep consuming grief. “The Empty Nesters” explores the harrowing passage of a couple going from habitual creatures of parenting to the limitless opportunities available to them. Placed on the sky walk of the Grand Canyon, writer Garret Jon Groenveld shows us the view is metaphorically terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Beautifully written, the darkly comic play captures the paradigm facing couples as they enter a brand new chapter, without kids in the house. His snappy dialogue and relatable idiosyncratic quips had me wondering if he was eavesdropping on my personal conversations with my husband.

The Empty Nesters Play

Our newly navigating empty nesters, Frances and Jack, are empathetically played by real-life married, empty nesters Pamela Walker and John Walker.  First of all, BRAVO to these talented empty nesters who are back on stage doing something together they both clearly enjoy. John Walker masterfully manages to keep Jack tremendously likable, even through all his whining and complaining. His comedic timing is spot-on and while I was extremely happy that Jack was not my husband, I was also pulling for him to evolve into the man Frances needs moving forward. His cadence for comedy reminded me of John Maloney as Fraser’s cranky, but lovable dad. Pamela could easily have gone over the top with the “sad mom” angle, but she keeps the emotion just behind her piercing eyes as the shock of her finality as a mother sets in. Pamela’s sublime performance made me ache for her… as if all the things she has let slide in her marriage came to a crushing epiphany when she waved goodbye to her daughter. I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and let her know it’s all going to be okay. I wanted to tell her how much she will enjoy spending time with her friends, traveling, and taking on new hobbies. I wanted to tell her how much she will love having adult relationships with her children, now that she’s not enforcing curfews. 

Director Richard Seyd guides us through the arch of this couple’s passage, showing us Frances and Jack’s ugliest warts along the way, but giving us hope in their commitment to one another and their future together. He steers away from the pitfalls of melodrama and keeps the pace moving. The use of the simple sets and 3D visual elements of the Grand Canyon added dimension to a little gem of a theatre in Los Angeles. This is why we support live theater! Raw human emotion, innovative set design to help our imagination paint the pictures, and a connection with the audience who resonate with the characters on stage.  

As empty nesters ourselves, with a blog called EmptyNestersFly.com, I could never have imagined this chapter could be so fulfilling. My husband and I decided to live abroad for 2-3 months of the year and we actually made it happen! On our blog we explore cooking, traveling, dining and the ease of Italian living (and yes, just like Frances, I correct Bruce’s rolling R’s when he speaks Italian!).  I had the blessing of watching my friends become empty nesters before me, and the ones who transitioned best started working on their new passions when their kids were still in high school. In their mid-fifties I have watched my friends become successful artists, first time writer/producers, join the board of directors for medical and philanthropic organizations, take up golf, volunteer in tutoring programs, create apparel brands, author novels, and so much more! 

For ticket information for “The Empty Nesters” visit: www.EmptyNestersPlay.com or call 866-811-4111

Save 25% on tickets with code SAVE25!

http://theemptynestersplay.com/

To follow Caroline & Bruce Somers’ cooking and traveling adventures follow us at: 

Blog: www.emptynestersfly.com 

Instagram: @carolinesomers @brucesomersjr

Facebook: @emptynestersfly 

Asian Turkey Meatball Soup

My mother-in-law, Suzanne created the basis for this recipe many years ago. Suzanne makes REALLY great soup and this one is no exception. You can find the original recipe in her book, The Sexy Forever Recipe Bible on p. 38. Last week it was raining and I wanted soup for an entrée. I remembered how much I loved this hearty, flavorful soup! I added a few extra vegetables and seasoning. Many of you followed along on my Instagram story and asked for the recipe. Here it is!! I made a killer homemade turkey broth, but you can used boxed chicken broth if you don’t have time. Also, it’s camellia season - one of my favorite flowers… and daughters!!!

Asian Turkey Meatball Soup.jpeg

Meatballs

1 ¼ pounds ground turkey

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)

1 tablespoon sesame oil 

½ teaspoon hot chili oil (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

3 green onions, chopped 

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

 

Soup

6 cups turkey (or chicken) stock, preferably homemade

6 celery stalks, chopped

6 stalks lemongrass (optional), cut into thirds

6 slices fresh ginger, peeled

3-4 heads baby bok choy, chopped

6 large leaves kale, julienned

2 cups snap peas, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)

1 tablespoon sesame oil

 

Garnish

Sriracha (optional)

1 bunch green onions

1 bunch cilantro, leaves only, chopped

Asian Turkey Meatball Vegetables.jpeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Meatballs:

Place ground turkey into a mixing bowl with ground ginger, garlic, tamari, sesame oil, chili oil, cilantro, green onions, a little bit of salt (the tamari is salty) and pepper. Using your hands, mix until well combined. Grease a baking sheet with a little sesame oil. Roll turkey into small bite-sized meatballs and place onto the baking sheet. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. 

Soup:

Bring stock to a boil in a large stock pot. When boiling, add the cooked meatballs, scraping all the bits of the bottom of the pan. (You can even add some stock to the pan to get all the bits off the bottom of the pan to add to the soup pot.) Add celery, lemon grass, ginger slices, bok choy, kale, and snap peas. Cook for just a few minutes so vegetables stay bright green and are still a little crisp.  Add a little tamari and sesame oil.  

Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro leaves, green onions and a little sriracha if you like it a little spicy!

(NOTE: Avoid chewing on the ginger and lemongrass - they are to flavor the broth only.)

Serves 6

Asian Meatball Soup.jpeg

Peach Lavender Crumble

Peach Lavender Crumble

It’s a lazy Sunday near the end of summer and my dear friend Cece has invited us to celebrate Rosh Hashanah at her home tonight. Cece has an enormous heart and cares deeply about the well-being of her friends and family + all of humanity. She asked if I could bring a cobbler. Cece, like my girls, is gluten-free for health reasons and cobblers, or crumbles as I like to make, are so easy to make for those with gluten sensitivities. 

Violet & Jack Farmer's Market

What a perfect opportunity to head to the Farmer’s Market with my daughter Violet and her boyfriend Jack. We spent the day making up this crumble recipe. We tasted dozens of varieties of peaches. The donut peaches were the sweetest and we combined them with white nectarines – picking out the ripest of the bunch. 

Peach Lavender Crumble Ingredients

Violet has incredible baking instincts. Some I have taught her and many she has taught to me! She knows I love lavender with peaches and suggested we add some, plus a touch of Gran Marnier to the filling. Smart girl. She also suggested we add pecans to the streusel topping. We use way more streusel topping than most crumble recipes call for – about three times as much! The result is something special. Can’t wait to share this with Cece and our friends! 

FILLING:

9-12 ripe peaches or nectarines 

Juice of 1 lemon

2 ounces Gran Marnier (optional) 

1 tablespoon organic corn starch

1 cup organic sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoons dried lavender 

STREUSEL TOPPING:

1 ½ cups gluten-free flour

1 ½ cups gluten-free oats

1 ½ cups organic brown sugar

¾ cup chopped pecans

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 ½ teaspoons gluten-free baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

12 ounces cold unsalted butter (3 sticks, cut into pieces)

 

Vanilla Ice Cream, garnish

Peach Lavender Crumble Filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

FOR FILLING:

Remove pits from peaches and nectarines. Chop into small bite-size pieces and set aside in large bowl. Squeeze juice of lemon over the top and toss gently to combine.

In a small bowl, combine Gran Marnier with corn starch and stir until lumps are gone. Add sugar, sea salt and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Pour over peaches and gently toss to coat evenly.  Sprinkle lavender over peaches and gently toss.  Set aside.

Peach Lavender Crumble Streusel Topping

FOR STREUSEL TOPPING:
In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, pecans, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Add cold butter and blend with a pastry blender or fingers until just combined and crumbly. Do not overwork.

Peach Lavender Crumble Streusel Topping

TO ASSEMBLE:

Pour peach mixture into a 9 x 11 casserole dish. Peaches release a lot of juice during cooking so we remove most of the accumulated juice on bottom of casserole (about ¼ cup). Add streusel topping over peaches and arrange evenly over top. 

Peach Lavender Crumble

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, until juices are thick and bubbling.  Let cool for one hour before serving.  

Peach Lavender Crumble

Spoon into serving bowls with a scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream. 

Peach Lavender Crumble

Thank you, Cece for a great night!!! I love you so much!! 

Cece and Caroline

Have a Snack! Celebrating Daisy's New EP!

I love summer - after being an empty nester for the first year, I was thrilled when the kids came home. Once again, the house is full of laughter, drama and chaos and I wouldn't want it any other way. Our big family gatherings make me happiest of all with cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and grandparents! Pictured below: our daughters Camelia on the left, Violet on the far right, their grandmother, Suzanne and our niece, Daisy in the middle!

SuzanneSomersGranddaughters
DAISY Have a Snack!

Our last summer dinner was in honor of our amazing niece, DAISY, who dropped her new EP last week called Have a Snack! We have watched Daisy evolve from an animated adorable baby with the wise old soul into a phenomenally talented singer, song-writer and artist. When she finished her latest record and had a show to launch it, we had our own little launch party to go with the theme Have a Snack! Daisy's EP is streaming on all platforms and also check out all the recipes and stories behind our "snacks" for the night! If you would like to watch the hour long Facebook LIVE of this video, WATCH HERE: https://www.facebook.com/suzannesomers/videos/700572013636383/

Brillat Savarin

BRILLAT SAVARIN with CARAMELIZED SHALLOTS and TRUFFLE HONEY

The first time I tasted this spectacular cheese was at my mother-in-law, Suzanne'’s house in Palm Springs. Brillat Savarin is the softest, creamiest triple cream brie I have ever experienced. When paired with caramelized shallots and truffle honey, the combination overwhelms in the best way possible! I am extremely lucky to have been introduced to so many wonderful tastes from Suzanne over the past 30 years. Suzanne also introduced me to these gluten-free flat breads, which are a revelation for my girls who are intolerant to gluten. Cooking with Suzanne is one of the great joys of my life. She’s the best cook I know! 

1 wheel Brillat Savarin Affine – (a triple cream brie from Normandy) 

15 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Truffle honey

French bread, sliced on the diagonal

Gluten-free flat bread (available at VeniceBakery.com)

Fresh sprig rosemary 

Rainforest Crackers (salted date and almond)

 

Bring cheese to room temperature a few hours before serving to make sure it’s very soft. 

To Caramelize Shallots:

Place a saute pan on medium high heat. Add olive oil to cover bottom of pan, then the shallots. Saute shallots, stirring frequently, until they release all the moisture and begin to caramelize. Turn down heat to medium low and continue caramelizing until they are uniformly brown and candied. The process will take about 30 minutes. Remove from pan, season with sea salt and set aside. 

To Toast French Bread:

Lightly oil sliced bread, then sprinkle with sea salt. Toast for a few minutes until barely golden brown. 

To Prepare Gluten-Free Flat Bread:

Lightly oil both sides. Place a saute pan on high heat. Add a light coating of oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add a few leaves of the rosemary, then the flat bread. Cook for about 3 minutes per side, until warmed through and a little crisp on the edges. Sprinkle with sea salt, then cut into large triangles. 

To Serve:

Place the soft cheese onto a cheese board or serving platter. Add a small dish of the caramelized shallots. Set out the small jar of truffle honey with a tiny spoon. Arrange the two types of bread and crackers.  To serve, place a generous smear of the soft cheese onto a slice of bread or cracker. Top with a few of the candied shallots, then a drizzle of truffle honey.  

Lipstick Peppers

ROASTED LIPSTICK PEPPERS with PECORINO

30 years ago, long before we had children, Bruce and I used to meet his parents at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays in Santa Monica. I have fond memories of visiting the local vendors and exploring new foods while bonding with Suzanne and Alan. Those were the years Suzanne and I were in the kitchen for many days testing recipes for her Somersize books. I remember how excited we would get when the Lipstick Peppers were in season. Suzanne taught me to pair them with pecorino – what a combination! As the years passed, Suzanne and Alan moved to Malibu and Bruce and I moved to Brentwood. This week I went back to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market and the Lipstick Peppers were popping! I surprised Suzanne and Alan with a batch this week. Great nostalgia and still a winning combo with the saltiness of pecorino. 

30 lipstick peppers

Infusio Basil Olive Oil (available at SuzanneSomers.com) 

Wedge of Pecorino cheese

French bread, sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

To Roast Lipstick Peppers:

Heat a grill on high. Add the lipstick peppers and char on all sides until skin is blistered and begins to blacken. When each pepper is blistered on all sides, place into a pot with tightly fitted lid. This helps to steam the peppers and makes the peeling process easier.  To peel the peppers, run under cool water. Remove the stem and peel away the skin. Break the pepper open and remove the seeds. When all the skin is peeled, set aside in a glass container. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Set on serving platter in overlapping layers to form petals along the edge of the platter. 

To Grill Bread:

Lightly grill the sliced French bread with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt. 

To Serve:

Place a lipstick pepper onto a slice of grilled bread. Drizzle with Infusio Basil Olive Oil. Using a cheese knife, slice a thin piece of pecorino and place on top of the lipstick pepper. 

Grilled Peaches Burrata Marcona Almonds

BABY GEM LETTUCES with GRILLED PEACHES, BURRATA & MARCONA ALMONDS

Burrata is like the goat cheese of the 90s! it’s everywhere and I shamelessly love it. Unlike it’s firmer counterpart fresh mozzarella, Burrata is softer, creamier and so delicious. In this salad, I pair it with grilled summer peaches for sweetness and salty Marcona almonds and caramelized shallots. Crisp lettuce, creamy cheese, sweet peaches, salty almonds and shallots… then the combination of Infusio Meyer Lemon Olive Oil and Pomegranate Balsamic makes it absolutely SING!  

4 heads baby gem lettuces, red and green leaf

4 ripe summer peaches, halved and seeded

15 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced 

1 ball Burrata (or substitute fresh buffalo mozzarella)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Infusio Meyer Lemon Olive Oil (available at SuzanneSomers.com)

Infusio Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar (available at SuzanneSomers.com)

1 cup salted Marcona almonds

Baby Gem Lettuces

Wash the baby gem lettuces and arrange in a bowl to showcase the beautiful varieties.

Grilled Peaches

To Grill Peaches:

Slice the summer peaches into wedges. Place them onto a hot grill, gently turning to char each side of the peach. Remove and set aside in an oven-proof dish. Keep warm in oven 200 degree until ready to serve.

To Caramelize Shallots:

Place a saute pan on medium high heat. Add olive oil to cover bottom of pan, then the shallots. Saute shallots, stirring frequently, until they release all the moisture and begin to caramelize. Turn down heat to medium low and continue caramelizing until they are uniformly brown and candied. The process will take about 30 minutes. Remove from pan, season with sea salt and set aside. 

Grilled Peaches Burrata Marcona Almonds

To Arrange Salad:

Toss the lettuce with Infusio Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, then season and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange onto individual serving plates. Gently slice or break the burrata into 6 pieces and place a nice dollop on top of the lettuce.  Arrange 3-4 hot grilled peaches on the side of the burrata. Season the cheese with additional salt and pepper. Drizzle the Infusio Pomegranate Balsamic over the top of the lettuce, cheese and peaches. Sprinkle with Marcona almonds and caramelized shallots. 

Artichokes

ARTICHOKES with GRILLED LEMONS

Bruce loves artichokes. It’s probably his favorite food! I have never asked what he uses to season the water, but it makes them extra special. While, he’s never measured, it’s a little of this and a little of that.  The day I made these, they were so spectacular with the long stems, I left the stems on for dramatic presentation. The stems were a little stringy and not really edible, but they sure looked pretty on the platter! 

4 artichokes

10 lemons, halved

2 tablespoons Herb de Provence

1 tablespoon lemongrass

1 tablespoon dill weed

1 tablespoon dill seed

1 tablespoon celery seed

Infusio Meyer Lemon Olive Oil (available at SuzanneSomers.com)

Sea salt

To Prepare Artichokes:

Remove the outer tough leaves of the artichokes. Trim off the tips of the pointy leaves. Trim the stems or leave stems long for presentation. Wash the artichoke, then rub with lemon all over to prevent browning.

Prepare a larger steamer over a pot of boiling water. Add the herbs and spices into the water. Arrange the artichokes in the steamer. Cover with tightly fitted lid. Depending upon size, steam for35-45 minutes or until a leaf pulls off easily and tastes tender. 

Grilled Lemons

To Grill Lemons:

Place the halved lemons onto a hot grill. Cook on all sides, turning until browned all over. 

Artichokes with Grilled Lemons

To Serve:

Slice the artichokes in half and remove the inner purple leaves and choke, being careful to keep the tender heart in tact. Arrange the halves onto a platter and place a grilled lemon into the cavity of each heart.  Place additional lemons around the edge of the platter.  Drizzle the artichokes with Infusio Meyer Lemon Oil and a generous sprinkle of sea salt.  To eat, squeeze the grilled lemon over the heart and leaves, including the soft pulp. Peel off the leaves, eating the tender edges, and save the beautiful heart for last with a little extra salt and grilled lemon.

Lamb Chops

PAN SEARED LAMB CHOPS with ROSEMARY

This is about as simple as it gets.  A thin, single rib lamb chop, pan seared with excellent olive oil, sea salt, a grinding of black pepper and rosemary. I finish them with a drizzle of Infusio Tuscan Olive Oil with the tastes of garlic, rosemary and basil. So tasty and simple! 

16 rib lamb chops

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

Infusio Tuscan Olive Oil (available at SuzanneSomers.com)

Season the lamb chops liberally with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and rosemary. Place a large saute pan on high heat and add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the chops flesh side down in a single layer. Do not overcrowd pan.  Sear for about 4 minutes per side until crusty and brown. Turn chops and sear other side. Lastly, prop up chops on the edge to crisp the fat along the bone. Transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with a small amount of Infusio Tuscan Olive Oil. 

 

Vietnamese Short Ribs with Crispy Ginger Chili Herbs

Vietnamese Short Ribs with Crispy Ginger Chili Herbs

I made this up on the spot for 4th of July when the butcher was out of Baby Back Ribs. Now it's a new favorite! Very tender, fall off the bone beef short ribs with the zing of sweet, salty, spicy and sour tastes! The chopping is very time consuming and the braising takes most of the day, however, all the prep can be done in advance of guests arriving and everything will stay warm and ready until you want to serve! 

VIETNAMESE SHORT RIBS with CRISPY GINGER CHILI HERBS

Serves 12

MARINADE:

16 oz. toasted sesame oil

8 oz. tamari (or soy sauce)

4 oz. red curry paste

6 shallots, thinly sliced

8 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup finely chopped ginger

¼ cup palm sugar (or brown sugar)

2 stalks lemongrass, smashed

Juice of 3 oranges (about 1 cup) 

12 beef short ribs

2 -14 oz bottles Sweet Chili Sauce

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with rack in lower position.

MARINADE:

Combine sesame oil, tamari, curry paste, shallots, garlic, ginger, palm sugar, lemongrass and orange juice in a large bowl and stir to combine.  

Marinade Vietnamese Short Ribs

BRAISING SHORT RIBS:

Place the short ribs into a large Dutch oven. Pour the marinade over the ribs. If they are not completely submerged in liquid, add water to barely cover. Cover Dutch oven and place into the preheated 325 degree oven for 4-5 hours. 

Braising Vietnamese Short Ribs

CRISPY GINGER GARLIC CHILI HERBS

16 oz. toasted sesame oil

16 shallots, thinly sliced

½ cup finely chopped ginger

2 heads garlic, minced

12 red chilies, seeded and thinly sliced 

12 green chilies, seeded and thinly sliced

2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced

2 cups cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

2 cups basil leaves, julienned 

Place about 1” of sesame oil into a large fry pan. Fry each ingredient, one at a time, until browned and crispy.  Shallots will take 20-30 minutes until browned and caramelized.  Remove and set aside in a bowl. Add more oil as needed, then fry ginger, about 5 minutes, until just golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and add to shallots.  Fry garlic in the oil, 2-3 minutes, until just golden. Do not overcook. Remove with slotted spoon and add to shallots.  Fry red chilies, 5-7 minutes, until slightly browned and crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and add to shallots.  Repeat with green chilies. Add more oil to pan as needed. Fry green onions, about 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove with slotted spoon and add to shallot mixture.  Lastly, fry the cilantro until it just blisters, about 1-2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon, then repeat with the basil, fry 1-2 minutes.  Reserve this bowl until ready to serve.  

GLAZING SHORT RIBS:

Remove the ribs from the braising liquid and set side on a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan. 

Preheat oven to 425 with rack in middle position. 

To prepare the glaze, using a ladle or large kitchen spoon, pour off some of the fat from the braising liquid.  Place the remaining braising liquid onto the stove top and turn up heat to high and let it boil down until the water has been reduced, 10-15 minutes.  When the sauce has thickened, add the Sweet Chili Sauce and stir to combine. Continue reducing on high heat for 5 minutes to thicken the sauce.

Spoon the glaze over the short ribs, then place back into the over and roast for 30-60 minutes, glazing again midway.  The sauce accumulated on the bottom of the pan will thicken.  

At the point, the ribs can be kept on low heat until ready to serve.  

Glazing Vietnamese Short Ribs

TO SERVE:

Right before serving, return the Crispy Ginger Chili Herbs to the pan, gently tossing to combine with heat on medium until warmed.  Transfer short ribs to a serving platter. They will be falling off the bone – your choice to place on the bone or remove bone completely.  Scrape the sticky sauce from the bottom of the roasting pan and spoon over the ribs. Garnish all over with a large pile of Crispy Ginger Garlic Chili Herbs.  Serve with Jade Pearl Rice or Jasmine rice. 

Crispy Ginger Chili Herbs
Vietnamese Short Ribs with Crispy Ginger Chili Herbs

Buffalo Drumsticks with Homemade Roquefort & Dipping Vegetables

Buffalo Drumsticks with Homemade Roquefort Dressing & Dipping Vegetables

Buffalo Drumsticks with Homemade Roquefort Dressing & Dipping Vegetables

For gameday or Father’s Day, this recipe is easy to make and always delivers! We usually make it with Buffalo Wings, but when they were out at the market, we decided to use drumsticks. The recipe is the same for wings or drumsticks.  Easy! We loved making this for Alan to celebrate an early Father’s Day.

Crispy Roasted Drumsticks

12 organic chicken drumsticks (or 3 pounds chicken wings or drummettes) 

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Buffalo Sauce

½ cup Cholula Hot Sauce

2 tablespoons organic butter

 

Homemade Roquefort Dressing


6-8 ounces Roquefort or good quality blue cheese, like Maytag

1 pint organic sour cream 

¼ cup organic mayonnaise

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Dipping Vegetables

1 head organic cauliflower, steamed

1 head organic broccoli, steamed

1 bunch organic carrots, washed and trimmed

1 head organic celery, washed and cut into pieces

 

For Crispy Roasted Drumsticks

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Wash and pat dry the drumsticks. Place onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Season well with sea salt and pepper on both sides. Place into oven and reduce heat to 375 degrees.  Bake for one hour, until skin is crispy and golden brown.  

For Buffalo Sauce

On the stovetop, place the Cholula and butter into a small saucepan and heat on medium.  Transfer sauce to the serving bowl.

Buffalo Wing Sauce

For Homemade Roquefort Dressing

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Will keep for about 2 weeks. 

Serve Crispy Drumsticks with Roquefort Dressing, Buffalo Sauce and Dipping Vegetables.  

Chilean Sea Bass with Cordycep Mushrooms & Summer Savory

Sea Bass with Cordycep Mushrooms & Summer Savory

In these warmer California months, the Farmer’s Market becomes the best day of the week with a bounty of new ingredients to discover. I’ve been a little uninspired in the kitchen lately and was hoping for something exciting. I challenged myself to create a brand new recipe based on whatever produce looked amazing.  Snap peas were bursting. Yes.  Avocados and citrus were popping. Yum. Beautiful flowering herbs – wait is that a variety of tarragon? No, I was corrected, flowering summer savory.  That was a yes, too. 

Farmer's Market Snap Peas
Farmer's Market Citrus

The mushroom stand is what made me double take. I saw these beautiful long, thin bright orange mushrooms and inquired. “Those are Cordyceps! Taste one.” Even raw, it was mild, with light citrusy and buttery notes. Then she handed me a list of all the incredible medicinal benefits. Anti-inflammatory, helps regulate cholesterol levels, boosts immune system, helps rejuvenate skin and reduce age spots, relief from asthma and chronic bronchitis, helps stave off memory loss. Wow. I bought a dime-bag… well, a bag that had a big 10 on it and there must have been about a cup and a half of mushrooms in there.  After a stop at the fresh fish stand for some Chilean Sea Bass my brand new recipe was solidified – at least in my head.     

Farmer's Market Exotic Mushrooms
Cordycep Mushrooms
Cordycep Mushrooms

CHILEAN SEABASS with CORDYCEP MUSHROOMS & SUMMER SAVORY

Extra virgin olive oil

2- 5 oz. pieces Chilean seabass

Sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper

1.5 cups cordyceps mushrooms (or chantarelles)

2 tablespoons chopped summer savory (or tarragon)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the sea bass on all sides with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Place a large sauté pan with oven-proof handle on medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the cordyceps and season with sea salt and pepper. Saute for about 2 minutes to release the flavor. Add the chopped savory and sauté another 1-2 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms from pan and set aside to keep warm.  Using the same pan, add a little more olive oil and the sea bass.  Sear the fish on all sides for a nice golden-brown crusty edge.  Then place the whole sauté pan into the oven for about 3 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, being cautious of the hot handle. Place the sea bass onto serving plates, then top with the cordyceps.  Serve with Snap Pea, Avocado & Ruby Red Grapefruit Hot & Cold Salad. 

Cordycep Mushrooms with Summer Savory

SNAP PEA, AVOCADO & RUBY RED GRAPEFRUIT HOT & COLD SALAD

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cups snap peas, strings removed and chopped into 3 pieces

Sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper

1 avocado, sliced

½ ruby red grapefruit, supremed

Heat a small sauté pan over medium high heat. Add a little olive oil to coat bottom of the pan. Toss in the snap peas and season with salt and pepper. Saute for about 2 minutes until bright green and still a little crunchy.

Remove from heat. Scoop onto the serving plates and top with slices of avocado. Place a few pieces of the grapefruit flesh onto the avocado and spoon a little of the grapefruit juice over the top.  Top with a little sea salt and pepper. 

Ingredients Snap Peas, Avocado & Grapefruit
Snap Peas
Snap Peas Avocado Grapefruit
Sea Bass with Cordycep Mushrooms & Summer Savory

What a taste of Spring!!! The fish was so fresh and buttery with that beautiful seared edge and slightly under in the center. The exotic cordycep mushrooms I will buy and cook again and again just for the subtle citrus flavor, let alone the medicinal benefits.  The summer savory gave just the right pop of brightness to round out the dish.  The hot snap peas with the cool avocado and juicy grapefruit was crunchy and smooth and tart and just a lovely unexpected combination. Suddenly I felt inspired! 

I was so intrigued by these cordyceps I did a little more research and found they come from Bhutan and are considered a magical herbal plant, often called Himalayan Viagra! She didn’t mention that at the farmer’s market. Wait for it, the ones grown in the mountains of Bhutan, Tibet, and Nepal above 11,000 feet actually sprout out of dead caterpillars! WHAT? They are very expensive ($10K-$50K per kilo) and are used in therapeutic medicinal teas in China. You can read more about them here.

Seeing the difference in appearance from the images of the Bhutan version, I researched until I found images that looked like the ones I bought at the market. The bright orange ones I cooked are cultivated, meaning grown in a lab.   There are also many brands of supplements made from these cultivated cordyceps, bottling the benefits for energy, immunity, sexual enhancement, disease prevention and more.  In fact, when I looked in my supplement box, I was already taking cordyceps in a product designed to combat adrenal fatigue. No wonder I was drawn to these beautiful new mushrooms, they happen to be just what I need to help strengthen my adrenal system!

 

Five Devices, One Foreign Outlet... No Problem!

Whenever we travel, power cables and adaptors become my responsibility. Fortunately, I love this stuff. When we travel internationally, it can take additional planning, but I have found a few gadgets that should be on everyone’s list. I’ll focus on one of my favorite go to power adapter here, the Zendure Global Travel Adapter. Amazingly simple yet packed with sophisticated circuitry such as worldwide compatibility plugs and 4 USB ports for all of your technology tools.

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The Global Adapter has 4 “Press and Slide” buttons that allow you to choose the plug that’s right for the country you’re visiting. You just choose the right button for the right country you’re in and “slide” that plug forward. Then plug in your appliance of choice into the All-in-One plug on the back. Because we spend most of our international time in Italy these days, we primarily use the EU button. However, when Violet was entered into the Young Fashion Designer's competition in London, it was great to know that I had the UK power option with the slide of a button upon arriving at our hotel in London.

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Often abroad, I find that outlets are in limited supply. Knowing that I can plug in my laptop to the power adapter, plus 4 USB ports to cover all of my family’s smartphones, tablets, and power banks, all of which only takes up one wall outlet, is both efficient and reassuring. And, because it has a self-resetting fuse, you never have to worry about overloading it.

It comes in black or white. It’s stupid simple. And it helps you avoid the jockeying for outlets that can happen when traveling with your family or other companions. Walking out of your hotel or vacation rental with a full battery is one the mandatories to having a successful day in a foreign city. The Zendure Global Travel Adapter makes sure that it happens with ease.

Bruce Somers

Table with a View, Venice Italy

Since we’ve been frequenting Florence on our transition as empty nesters, there’s been one stop that has made it into every visit… Venice.

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From our apartment next to Piazza San Lorenzo, we’re only a 5 minute walk to the main train station of Santa Maria Novella. What I really love is that you only have to arrive about 10 minutes before your departure. Having flown so much in the US with the need to arrive 2 hours before your flight departure, the train just makes so much sense and feels so easy. Upon boarding our high speed Frecciarossa train, it’s only a two hour ride to Venice through Tuscany into the region of Veneto. Like every view out every window in Italy, watching the beautiful Italian countryside slip by at close to 200mph is mesmerizing. Round trip tickets are around $75 per person. Caroline and I usually pop for the extra $10-$15 to sit in business class. You get a large leather seat and an included snack… your choice, “Sweet or salty?” Basically, one consists of biscotti, the other is a bag of chips.

Upon arriving in the train station of Santa Lucia in Venice, we start our short hike to our hotel. Because of the small paths and multiple bridges over canals, Venice is one place where we tend to put one to two night’s worth of clothes in a some sort of backpack. Venice is the Angel of Darkness to the usual rolling luggage. That said, when we’ve arrived for longer stays, we venture to the boat taxi stand and have the exciting, albeit pricey, journey through canals that cut through to the Grand Canal. We put on our sunglasses, stand up in the back of the boat, and emulate our best George and Amal smiles for the 15-minute ride.

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In a country filled with so much beauty, Venezia, in my opinion, is the most picturesque city of them all. I am constantly struck by every canal, bridge, and alley. This tiny city is so dense that each street and canal represents a long narrow view to something beautiful. As a photographer, I am awestruck by the beautiful converging lines that seem to join water and sky in harmony. Every wall has layers upon layers of historical plaster that emits a patina that is simultaneously unique and unexplainable. The only challenge is stopping just enough to compose my pictures, but not enough to get the evil eye from Caroline. If I didn’t exercise some restraint, we would never get to our intended destination.

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Of course, one way to get around is by the famous gondola. They are plentiful and gondoliers will do their best to cajole you into a ride. However, personally it’s not our thing. I feel too ‘on display’ in the gondola and they are quite expensive. I would suggest doing it once to say you’ve done it. However, when we arrive in Venice, if all we do is just walk and get lost, it stills goes down as supremely memorable.

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Our favorite activity consists of lunch at the table with the best view in Venice. It’s not that the lunch is so spectacular (however the Pizza Diavola is pretty amazing), but the table itself sits in a corner of the restaurant in the outdoor area of Bar Foscarini in the shadow of the bridge, Ponte dell’Accademia. We request and wait for this corner table next to the small gondola parking. Once seated, we are mesmerized by the bustling Grand Canal with water taxis, gondolas, speed boats, and small commercial boats all servicing this unique city. Additionally, the stunning Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute serves as an awesome backdrop welcoming visitors at the mouth of the Grand Canal. Every time we visit Venice, we sit there for a couple of hours drinking a Rosé or glass of champagne, eating a simple Insalata Mista to go with our Pizza Diavola with the spicy pepperoni. I can’t emphasize enough how special these hours have been for myself and Caroline to take in the constantly evolving and constantly engaging view. Sometimes we sink deep into conversations, sometimes deep into thought, and all times deep into gratitude for the present moment.

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After lunch we venture to Piazza San Marcos and feel like we’ve been cast in some evolving Italian play with street merchants, couples kissing and taking pictures, waiters in bow ties serving bottles of champagne, and orchestras playing everything from Vivaldi to The Godfather theme. It’s all staged. It’s all touristy. And it’s all fun eye candy. From here, we’ll often head north with no agenda. Most roads will point you to the famous Ponti di Rialto, a bridge packed with merchants selling bags, scarves, and leather goods. It’s a beautiful vista to grab a sunset shot. On either side of this part of the winding Grand Canal, restaurants cater to more tourists. However, we exercise patience because we are heading to our favorite restaurant for dinner…

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Trattoria Antiche Carampane. We discovered it on a website that indicated, “Where Venetians go to Dine.” It’s hard to find, and the proprietor likes it that way. In fact, the first time we went, we used Google to navigate the walking streets. At one point, the street was so narrow that Caroline and I had to turn sideways to squeeze through. She was convinced that we were lost. I love getting lost so it was pure fun for me. And then, all of a sudden, we found ourselves at the door. This restaurant is, hands down, our favorite dinner in Venice. After finishing a wonderful meal of soft shell crab, we told the owner that it was the best dinner we’ve had in Venice. Because it was so hard to find, I asked him, “Would you like us to tell people about your restaurant?” He replied, “Only nice people.” We both smiled broadly.

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Venice. A sublime sinking city. Home to the bi-annual Biennale art festival. Historically one of the great Italian city-states. In present, a jewel not to be missed (except maybe in the height of Summer when the crowds are actually too thick). As I sit here looking out the window of our apartment in Florence with the sun rising, I am already looking forward to yet another visit within the next few weeks.

Bruce Somers

 

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Of all the unbelievably great food to eat and swoon over in Florence, the Florentine Steak is arguably the most famous dish. (WAIT, truffle pasta, suckling pig, burrata, pizza, gelato… well, those will each be argued as notable in future posts!) La Bistecca, a huge porterhouse T-Bone, grilled rare and simply seasoned with salt tastes like no other steak you have eaten. If you think you dislike rare meat, that will change when this succulent, tender, buttery meat melts in your mouth. As with all incredible Italian food, the secret lies in starting with the best ingredients in the world, then preparing to perfection. 

Florence lore depicts the Florentine steak originating in San Lorenzo (our neighborhood) in the 1500s during the Medici’s reign. The Duke of Florence’s daughter was getting married and the celebration included setting up numerous fire pits and roasting massive cuts of meat in San Lorenzo for the guests. Allegedly, traveling Brits in the square started shouting, “beefsteak” and the Italians picked up on the chant, creating a new slang term, “bistecca”.  It stuck!  To this day, La Bistecca is the most famous dish in Tuscany. 

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Walking around Florence you will see large cuts of beef hanging in windows of trattorias and osterias (one of our favs, Le Cappelle Medici Ristorante Enoteca, pictured here) – these are the dry aging refrigerators proudly displaying the prized beef from the celebrated Chianina cows. These massive “mucce bianche” (white cows), have been bred for the Florentine’s favorite steak for over 2,000 years. This meat has beautiful marbling, but contains less cholesterol than its American counterpart, and actually has a higher protein content. The meat is usually cut 1.5-3 inches thick, anywhere from 2-4 pounds so there is plenty to share.

Recipes vary very little. It starts with the preparation before cooking. Cold meat on a hot grill will make the meat seize and get tough; that’s why grill masters say it’s best to have meat at room temp before your cook it (20-30 minutes on the counter).  With the Florentine Steak, the grilling process begins with the steak standing up on the bone for 15 minutes. This warms the meat through the radiant heat of the bone and melts the fat into the flesh. Then meat is grilled 5-7 minutes on each side. Only turn once - without moving the steak to secure good grill marks.  Let meat rest for 10-15 minutes to reabsorb the juices. Run the knife along the edges of the bone, then slice into 1” pieces. Purists will season only with salt, others may also add pepper and a little olive oil (or even rub with garlic and rosemary before cooking). TIPS: When you order, do not tell them how you want it cooked. They will roll their eyes. It only comes one way.  It would be like asking a famed Japanese chef to cook his sushi.  When it’s served, do not ask for steak sauce. They might deport you!

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We’ve devoured this dish at numerous restaurants in Florence. When we have friends or family in town (like Violet's hometown buddies from elementary school who cleaned their plates and nibbled on the bone!), one of our activities will definitely include heading to PARIONE for this memorable meal, shown here with crispy roasted potatoes and  arugula. Literally perfect. We paired with a beautiful local Tuscan wine, Modus. The service there is lively and friendly. The chef plays the role of my back-up husband (he’s so talented!). If you only have a couple of nights in Florence, PARIONE is a must, and it’s THE place to experience Tuscany’s T-Bone (Florentine purists, please jump in now and tell me I'm wrong and supply your own favorite spot). When you go out for this meal, it becomes the central character of a storied night in Florence… the lore, the presentation, the massive scale – and when you taste it, well, the rest is history. 

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Porcini Mushroom Season: Roast Chicken with Porcini Mushroom Stuffing

Traveling in Italy makes me realize what is truly means to eat in season. Florentine markets do not fly in fruits and vegetables out of season from different climates.  In Los Angeles, we shop at Whole Foods and one might never realize the actual season for berries, apples, tomatoes, squash, etc.  They have most of these items year round by partnering with agriculture companies in South America. In this situation, the food is not picked when it's ripe and ready to eat. It's picked early, packed and transported for the long journey to get to market.  Sure, those pink tomatoes will eventually ripen to red, but they will never have the flavor of an actual vine ripened tomato that is picked and sold the next day.  This local growing and selling of fresh produce is what gives the farmer's markets such appeal.  In Italy, buying local fresh produce is the norm. The lower floor of Mercato Centrale hosts dozens of fresh produce that is grown locally, and sold the day it's ready for the season. 

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The arrival of porcini mushrooms in September and October causes a major celebration in Tuscany. You can feel and see the buzz at Mercato Centrale. Vendors proudly display their prized mushrooms. They are so beautiful, I feel like they are fantasy houses for little gnomes who live under their shade in the garden.  As I fill a paper bag, I am expecting the hefty price tag from the outdoor market in Los Angeles.  Perhaps $40 for a full bag like this? Whatever, it's worth it - they are porcinis!   The gruff Italian vendor looks at me and says, "Nine".  9 euros? Are you kidding!  He's sweet on the inside and also gifts me a few sprigs of nepitella, an herb that tastes like a cross between oregano and mint that grows wild in Tuscany and is commonly paired with porcinis. It's my first introduction to this herb, and who am I to argue this classic pairing to a man born and bred in Florence.  Of course, I also pick up some fresh thyme because I love it with porcinis.   

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I settle on roasting two beautiful young chickens with Porcini Mushroom Stuffing. Here's the recipe.

ROAST CHICKEN with PORCINI MUSHROOM STUFFING

3 onions

1 - 4 lb. whole chicken (or two small chickens)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 head garlic, cloves peeled and chopped

1 large bag porcini mushrooms, about 6 cups chopped

2 sprigs fresh nepitella, leaves only-chopped

8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only-chopped

1 cup dry white wine

Sea salt & cracked black pepper

Paprika

1 tablespoon rosemary, dried

1 lemon

Peel and thinly slice 2 onions. Place onions into the bottom of a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper.  Place a roasting rack over the onions.  Wash and pat dry the chicken. Place onto the roasting rack.  Set aside.

Peel and thinly slice the last onion. Saute the onion in olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot until golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Add chopped garlic and sauté for 3 minutes.

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To clean the mushrooms, brush with a vegetable brush or use a slightly dampened cloth to remove dirt (do not wash with water or they will get soggy). Trim the ends of the stems, then finely chop tops and stems. 

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Add mushrooms to the browned onions with a little more oil if necessary.  Season with sea salt and black pepper.  Sauté until brown and a little crusty, about 15-20 minutes.  Add the nepitella and thyme leaves, stirring to combine. Add white wine and stir until the mushrooms absorb the wine, about 10 minutes.

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Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the Porcini Mushroom Stuffing.  Squeeze a lemon over the chicken. Drizzle chicken liberally with olive oil, then season with sea salt, cracked black pepper, paprika, rosemary and top with thyme leaves.

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Place into a 350 degree oven and roast for about 90 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the meaty part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees.

Remove roasting pan from oven. Place chicken onto cutting board and cover with foil to rest for 10 minutes.  Using serving spoon, remove the porcini mushroom stuffing and place into serving bowl.  Carve chicken by first removing the wings with a small piece of breast meat attached and arrange on platter. Then remove legs with thighs, cutting into separate pieces. Slice breast meat on the diagonal.  Place onto the serving platter with the beautifully browned onions in the pan drippings.  Serve chicken with browned onions and Porcini Mushroom Stuffing.

Bittersweet - Sending the Kids Back to School

When your kids are healthy and happy and doing what they are supposed to be doing to progress in life, there is really nothing more we can wish for... but wow, do our hearts ache when it's time to say goodbye after an amazing holiday visit!

Our youngest, Violet, is now 19 years old and living in Florence, Italy while she attends a 4-year program in Fashion Design at Polimoda. Of all the schools in the world, how did she end up here?  We looked at art programs all over the United States. She loved Parsons in New York, and I’m sure it would have been amazing – but Violet really needs space and time to do her art.  Hmmmm, where do they respect rest and the true creative process? Italy! I started investigating fashion design programs in Italy and stumbled upon the most amazing video for Polimoda. Globally, it’s rated one of the top fashion design schools in the world. They offered a summer program and Violet was thrilled to test out the opportunity for 5 weeks in the summer before her senior year of high school.

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It was a fit.  The school.  The city. The vibe. The pace. The art. The architecture. There is so much inspiration in Florence and at this school. Violet was overwhelmed with creative input.  At the end of the summer program, they offered her a position as a full time student and suddenly, we created a home abroad where Violet could live and we could have a second home.  She looked at us and said, “Wait, are you guys coming to college with me?”  Haha, no. We are only there for a few months, in maybe three trips a year, and for the rest of the time she lives on her own.

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Empty nesting for me and Bruce took full hold in Fall of 2017. It’s an odd feeling when the evening rolls around and Bruce says, “Hey, you wanna go to yoga?” I mean, why not? Work is done. I’m not waiting for one of the kids to roll in so I can grab 20 minutes whenever they have a moment to connect.  We eat dinner whenever and wherever we like.  No coordinating with afterschool activities, social calendars, homework cram sessions, art shows, etc.  Is it quiet? Well, yes, but we are still really busy.  It simply allows for all the work we normally do, plus a little personal time instead of that space we saved for precious family time. 

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After our beautiful Christmas, the night before Violet left to go back to Florence, we were having dinner and she was reflecting on heading back to Italy. She loves it there. We love it there. She has bravely forged her new life there in a new school in a new country! She has managed living by herself and running her household while managing the intense workload of school (it’s relentless, but she loves it!). She sat at dinner with a stoic face and then she couldn’t hide her big lips when they started to quiver and pout. One little tear fell from her eye and she said she was going to miss us, and miss being so supported because, “ya know, it’s heavy to carry the water up those 84 stairs… and I drink a lot of water.” 

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Oh I wanted to grab her and hold onto her forever and never send her back.  Instead I just acknowledged what an incredible job she’s done acclimating to her new environment and living independently.  We got all the tears out that night. The next day when she left we all smiled and hugged and there was not a moment of sadness.  I have joy in my heart watching her grow and expand without our daily assistance.  I knew it would only be a few weeks before we’d be back in Italy.  I thought about the chicken soup I would cook for her to have in the freezer in case she gets sick while we are not there. 

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How we love and cherish those holiday visits, when we have all our birds back in the nest for a few days, maybe even a few weeks.  How bittersweet when we send them off again to spread their wings. I couldn’t be more proud of her.  I miss her so much every day, but I’m not spending those days looking at home movies. I’m out creating my own next chapter. When she left she said, “Promise me you won’t be boring when I’m gone. You have so many talents.”  She’s proud of me, too!  Children are such a blessing and our new relationship as adults is evolving beautifully. 

 

Peposo - Italian Pepper Beef Stew

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This Italian Pepper Beef Stew is slow-cooked for hours with a ton of red wine.  We only started seeing this dish at trattorias in the fall and winter, when it gets cold in Florence.  It was so hearty and comforting, I told Bruce I had to try and make it.  The origins of this dish are as exciting as the taste!  In the 15th century when Brunelleschi was building the Duomo on the Santa Maria dei Fiore in Florence, he had a team of tile makers.  The guys who baked the tiles in the furnace were called Fornaci and while on the job they would toss some cheap cuts of beef, a handful of peppercorns, garlic and Chianti into a terra cotta pot. They’d let it cook in the corner of the furnace all day.  The result? Shredded, delicious beautiful stew that warms your heart!

 

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Modern versions of this recipe often also add tomato sauce to give the stew a little body. Your choice to add it or not. There is also debate about using whole peppercorns or ground pepper. I prefer some of each. The whole peppercorns mellow as they stew – you can eat them after cooking and they are lovely. The ground pepper is actually spicier than the whole ones. Literally takes about 15 minutes to toss the ingredients into an over-proof dutch oven (or terracotta pot if you have one), then let it cook in the oven for 6-8 hours and you are done! (I used a Le Creuset one time, and a heavy All Clad stock pot another time. I prefer the Le Creuset for this, but both work fine and cleaned up easily.) Ask the butcher to give you a few pieces of the bone for additional flavor. This recipe is even better the next night. Great to make ahead and reheat for easy dinners. 

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Pepsi Italian Pepper Beef Stew

PEPOSO

5 lbs. beef stew meat in 2x2” chunks (preferably shin meat)

Shin bone, sliced down the middle into a few pieces (optional, adds great flavor)

8-10 fresh sage leaves

6 bay leaves

1 whole head garlic, top sliced off to expose cloves, outer skin removed

1/8 cup whole black peppercorns

Liberal grindings freshly ground black pepper  (about 2 tablespoons)

Sea salt

1-2 cups tomato sauce (optional)

1 large bottle (500mL) Chianti (2 regular size bottles)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325 F (160 C) with rack in lower middle.

Place one layer of beef into the bottom of a Dutch oven. Season with salt, whole peppercorns and ground pepper.  Layer with sage and bay leaves. Nestle the head of garlic into the middle.  Add one of the beef bones.  Layer again with beef, salt, pepper, peppercorns, sage, bay leaves, continuing until all the meat and seasoning is in the pot.  Drizzle the tomato sauce across the top.  Add the other bones.  Add the wine to cover the meat completely. If you don’t have enough, you can use a little water.  

Peposo - Italian Pepper Beef Stew

Place lid onto the pot and place into the oven. Cook at 325 for 6-8 hours.

PEPOSO - Italian Pepper Beef Stew

Remove from oven. 

PEPOSO Italian Pepper Beef Stew

Serve with cannellini beans and sage leaves for a cozy, comforting meal on a cold night. I have to say it was spectacular to eat this simple dish, so rich in history, while looking out our  kitchen window at Brunelleschi's two duomos - Santa Maria di Fiore and San Lorenzo. Thank you, Fornaci, for this great invention! You could call their terra cotta creation the world's first slow cooker.  

Peposo Italian Pepper Beef Stew

Abroad! Your child's safety in another country

In Camelia's junior year of college she was eager to travel abroad, and it made complete sense for her to choose Shanghai as her destination since she is a Chinese major.  While her friends were making plans with other students to room together in Paris, Barcelona, or Rome, Camelia was on her own headed to China.  Of course we were proud of her for making such a bold choice, but would she be safe in China on her own? Would we have access to communication? Cell service? What would happen in the case of a medical emergency or a natural disaster? It's easy to let your head spin with all the ways your child could potentially be injured, abducted, harmed, harassed, or compromised in a foreign country.   Add China as the destination and you are bound to feel even less in control.  

Bruce and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to take to explore her new city and help her get set up in her dorm at East China Normal University.  Before her move-in date, we spent a week at a lovely hotel near the French Concession area called Twelve at Hengshan. It was an easy location to navigate the many attractions of this fabulous high-tech modern city with ancient historic culture. Our favorite feature was their spectacular breakfast, especially the wonton soup. With all the adventurous eating ahead of us for the days in China, we knew we would start each day with this amazing soup with fresh vegetables, broth and dumplings, as well as a spectacular array of breakfast foods to please travelers from any country.  

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On the Bund you overlook the Pudong district across the water with buildings that look straight out of the space age;  towering architectural masterpieces with outrageous shapes and color that light up the night sky. 

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The Bund (along Zhongshan Road) is the European district and walking down the shopping streets, you could be in Paris with the Neoclassical and art deco buildings and familiar designer store fronts. 

One of our favorite outings was to the garment district, where our friend Diane recommended a local tailor to make beautiful cashmere coats for a fraction of what you would pay in the states. We also loved M50, the art district at 50 Mogansha Lu, with contemporary and modern art from small local studios. We spent an afternoon walking through and meeting local artists, had an incredible lunch at a noodle restaurant, and meandered through bookstores.  Definitely worth a visit, especially for these soft, spicy pork noodles.

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On the more tourist route, we explored Yuyuan Gardens with its ancient architecture, koi ponds, and cherry blossoms. Unlike the more metropolitan areas of Shanghai where there are many travelers from around the world, Camelia was more conspicuous as that blonde American in this densely populated area with Chinese natives. She likes to listen to people talk about her in Mandarin, of course they assume she can’t understand.  Taxi drivers here will not pick up Americans unless you have an address written on a card. At the beginning of the trip, Camelia acted as our translator was able to converse with our driver. She stumbled here and there as she was getting up her confidence, but we always arrived where we were supposed to and she our driver formed a sweet friendship. 

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I expected to feel incredible censorship everywhere we went.  I didn’t.  I expected to only meet families with one child.  They all had numerous children. I expected to feel like life was restricted for these 1.3 billion people. They seemed happy.  The realities are that I missed having international news on TV and found it fascinating that CNN was mostly pre-recorded programming with a few snippits here and there of what we would call regular news. Bruce showed me how to access the internet in a familiar work-around using VPN so it appears my computer is logging in from the states. (His favorite is Express VPN, but make sure you download and install it before arriving in China.) This allows access to all my regular sites and social media that are not available to Chinese citizens.  Camelia was settling into these new norms and she’s got a lot of street savvy because she’s traveled extensively.  She opened a We Chat account, which is the most popular social media site in China.

People in China do not have access to guns and there is security everywhere. This dramatically cuts down on crime and makes the streets extremely safe.  Camelia was well aware of this bubble and in many ways said it made her feel safer in China than at home. She was beautifully naïve to the freedoms and rights she has always had as an American, but felt that because she was born into a culture with those rights, she could enjoy the safe guards in China – knowing she had her American citizenship with all her privileges.

Our wonderful Chinese friends, Catherine & Kevin Chan, introduced us to a small circle of surrogate parents in Shanghai who promised to watch over Camelia when we left. How incredible to have these kind, compassionate, connected, and caring people nearby so that if Camelia needed something, she had resources.  They also opened many doors socially for Camelia who found herself at private clubs, Shanghai Fashion Week, and the birthday party of our new friends, Anya and Richard, who happens to be the 78th direct descendant of Confucious! Diane, whose friends lovingly refer to her as The Martha Stewart of China, gave us incredible recommendations for food and shopping. They also took us to beautiful restaurants and provided resources for whatever Camelia needed while she was there. 

Camelia Somers Shanghai Fashion Week China

Camelia already has several food allergies, but she managed to navigate the strange and wonderful cuisine of Shanghai – with a few exceptions.  One night Camelia called me from the Top of Shanghai Tower and told me she had such bad food poisoning, she didn’t know if she could get back to her dorm.  She became quite friendly with the bathroom attendant in her 90 minutes of horror.  When the observation deck was closing at 9:30pm I told her she better get downstairs before she got locked in the tower! She was so weak and didn’t think she could walk the 15 minutes it took from the drop off point for cabs at her school to her room. This is where it helps to have local friends who say, “Seriously, call us if you need anything.” It was serious, and I didn’t know where else to turn! I called Catherine & Kevin, who live part-time in Hong Kong and part-time in Shanghai.  They insisted on sending Camelia to their residence at a hotel and had people standing by to bring her soup and Chinese herbs to help her stomach.  Suddenly Camelia felt like the luckiest girl in the city to have food poisoning! Some soup and a little TLC was just what she needed. 

Camelia Somers Shanghai Tower China

By the end of Camelia’s four months in Shanghai I expected her to be aching to return to the states.  No, she was sad to leave! I was on the phone with her and listening to her rattle off (no stutters) directions in Mandarin to her cab driver. She was arriving back at her dorm after a late night out and leaned out the cab to speak to the attendant at the school gate.  I asked what she said to him and she laughed, “I told him I just got in from the airport and have heavy bags with me so I needed the cab to drive me all the way to my room.  I couldn’t bare that walk in heels tonight!“  The cab driver laughed and told her she was smartest foreigner he’s ever met! 

Now that she’s about to graduate from USC, there is no doubt she will be spending more time in China and we can’t wait to explore more of this fascinating country. Camelia's time in Shanghai was her transition to adulthood. She came back for her senior year with notably more maturity and focus on her career. When our kids are abroad, of course we worry, but the life experiences and independence they gain by not having us there are unsurpassed!

Camelia Somers Shanghai China
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